VCU Center for Corporate Education

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After days of Googling, clicking, and scrolling, you finally did it: found a professional development program that hits everything you’re looking for. The content is relevant, the facilitator is an expert, and the experience will boost the daylights out of your resume. It’s amazing! It’s perfect! You’re ready to hit that register button! Well, except for one small problem…

…asking your boss for the time and money to do it.

Asking your organization to cover costs for your professional development would tie a knot in almost any employee’s stomach. In fact, it’s almost like asking for a raise. Is it worth your time to ask? How do you even start the conversation? What happens if they brush off your request?

Here are five fool-proof ways that you can pitch your own success to your supervisor in asking for professional development opportunities.

(1) Get a feel for your organization’s budget.

Before you ask for cash to cover a class or conference, get a better idea of your organization or department’s funding situation. Has there been a cutback in the professional development budget lately? Have your colleagues or supervisors had the chance to attend programs on their own?

Talk with your co-workers about PD experiences they’ve had and make mental notes of their length and cost. If the most members from your department have done is a half-day workshop at a local university, that week-long conference in California may be out of reach.

(2) Sell the benefit to your boss.

Although the PD opportunity you found will undoubtedly help you grow and adapt in your current role, don’t forget to share with your supervisor how it will help make their work life easier, too. Will this program give you a skill set that helps efficiency? Does this take any additional work off your supervisor’s desk? Is this an area in which your supervisor doesn’t have the time (or even interest) available to train you? Brainstorm ways that this opportunity will help you be a better employee both on the individual and managerial level.

(3) Promise to bring what you learn back to the team.

Similarly, be sure to explain to your supervisor ways in which you can learn a skill or knowledge base and bring it back to your team members in a meaningful way. Showing that your experience will have a ripple effect across the department or organization can make the ask easier. Offer to hold a workshop or and informal debriefing of what you learn when you return from the experience so that there’s a group benefit to sending you out of the office.

(4) Highlight the positive networking potential.

Most likely, this professional development opportunity won’t happen in a cardboard box by yourself. This is a chance for you to network with other professionals in a given field, or others with a desire to learn a skill set, and act as an ambassador for your organization. By enrolling yourself in a professional development event, you can broaden your organization’s reach by meeting new people, making new connections, and hopefully finding ways your professional goals might overlap with others. You never know who you might sit next to at a conference, or who you’ll get paired up with for an icebreaker!

(5) Get ready for the “no”, but prepare a back up plan.

Worst case scenario… you find the program, you make the pitch, but your supervisor still gives you a hard nope. Don’t be afraid to ask why your professional development suggestion got turned down. Was it the cost? Duration of the program? Is it a particularly busy time at work? Has your department been understaffed? Does your supervisor feel that you need more experience first? Demystify the reason behind the no so that you know what to work towards in your next ask.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask for a scaled-down option if your initial pitch gets rebuffed. Is there a professional organization you can join? A webinar series you can sign up for? A journal or publication subscription that would be beneficial? Show that you have dedicated interest in growing in your position and at your organization, and not just a desire for a week away from the office in the Californian sunshine. Pave the way for your own success, even if you start off smaller than you anticipated.

Audrey Walls is the graduate assistant for the Center for Corporate Education, counseling intern at VCU Business Career Services, and an M.Ed. in Counselor Education candidate in the School of Education. She believes in MBTI, narrative theory, and the power of a good resume.

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